Tub Talk
by Julie Cook Ramirez

Striving to make dips more than a special-occasion food, manufacturers step up their R&D efforts.
When it comes time for the weekly trip to the grocery store, there are a number of products that invariably occupy prime spots on most peoples’ lists. Chief among them are products known as “staples” — milk, bread, eggs and the like. Quite a few people add such things as cheese, chips and soda to that list, while the health conscious might require tofu, wheat germ and veggie burgers.
Just about every product has its own group of dedicated fans, increasing the likelihood they will appear on someone’s list week after week. One would think that must be the case with dips, as the trend toward “grazing” lends itself to a chip-and-dip kind of lifestyle.
But manufacturers aren’t operating under any delusions of grandeur, imagining that dips occupy a treasured spot right next to milk or eggs. On the contrary, dip makers are quick to admit that the number of people consistently buying dip is infinitesimal.
“No one walks into the store every time saying, ‘I’ve got to buy dip,’” explains Jay Snedeker, vice president of sales and general manager for Heluva Good LLC, a Sodus, N.Y.-based subsidiary of HP Hood LLC, Chelsea, Mass. “It’s either an impulse purchase, or it’s purchased specifically for entertaining.”
Sure enough, dip sales spike noticeably during those times of the year when people tend to do the most at-home entertaining. These celebratory times primarily strike during the winter months, as people gather for Christmas or Super Bowl Sunday. There’s the month of June, when dip sales increase again for graduation parties.
The fact that dips are primarily used for entertaining bodes well for branded manufacturers. “When they are used for entertaining, dips are served directly out of the container the majority of the time,” Snedeker says. “The party host wants to give everyone a good impression, so they tend to serve a high-quality, well-recognized brand name.”
If the latest data from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc. (IRI) is any indication, then Snedeker’s theory may very well be accurate. During the 52-week period ending August 7, 2005, private label — usually a category leader — held a 17.7 dollar share of refrigerated dip sales throughout supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart. That places it below category leader T. Marzetti, Columbus, Ohio, which possesses a 19.8 dollar share.
In the shelf-stable dip category, private label’s situation is even bleaker, as IRI data for the same time period shows it holding a mere 3.0 dollar share and ranking sixth, below Frito Lay, Tostito’s Party Bowl, Ruffles, Kraft Cheese Whiz and Frito’s, which commands a whopping 38.6 share.
TOP 10 REFRIGERATED DIP BRANDS*
  $ Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago Unit Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago
Total Category$407.84.2%191.5-1.0%
T. Marzetti80.99.826.99.0
Private Label72.36.340.6-3.0
Dean’s47.1-4.727.2-5.7
Heluva Good29.63.615.4-3.2
Kraft27.0-8.817.0-6.6
Classic Guacamole16.8-6.04.4-5.2
Litehouse10.4169.73.7148.8
Salads of the Sea5.044.11.643.4
Marie’s4.7-47.61.5-48.4
Bison4.5-1.62.8-0.4
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52-week period ending August 7, 2005.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
TOP 10 SOUR CREAM BRANDS*
  $ Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago Unit Sales (In Millions) % Change vs. Year Ago
Total Category$688.04.6%443.00.6%
Private Label200.55.5153.34.3
Daisy124.816.469.611.8
Breakstone104.22.269.2-2.0
Knudsen Hampshire51.41.922.70.7
Friendship13.2-0.510.8-7.3
Cacique12.012.43.35.1
Knudsen10.83.45.30.7
Dean’s9.60.86.3-10.1
Tillamook8.8-3.95.2-4.9
Prairie Farms7.88.65.67.0
* Total sales in supermarkets, drug stores and mass merchandisers, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52-week period ending August 7, 2005.
SOURCE: Information Resources Inc.
Overall, consumers seem to be gravitating toward shelf-stable dips, resulting in increases of 4.4 percent in dollars and 3.8 percent in units, according to IRI. By contrast, sales of refrigerated dips rose 4.2 percent in dollars, but fell 1.0 percent in units. In part, that’s because makers of shelf-stable dip have the advantage of being able to place their products in the same aisle as the most popular dip carrier: chips. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the majority of shelf-stable dip manufacturers also make chips.
“They’ve got a great opportunity to help consumers make the connection between chips and dip right at the point of purchase,” Snedeker says. “That probably puts the refrigerated people at a bit of a disadvantage.”
Meanwhile, sales of sour cream — the base of most refrigerated dips — posted a 4.6 percent increase in dollar sales and a 0.6 percent increase in unit sales. Outpacing such respectable overall growth was brand leader Daisy, which enjoyed a 16.4 percent jump in dollar sales and an 11.8 percent hike in unit sales.
Good performance by Dallas-based Daisy and California-based Cacique, maker of Mexican-style dairy foods, reflects the growing interest in authentic ethnic cuisines, in which sour cream, or crema, plays an integral role.
Striking Back
There’s still a widespread belief among those in the industry that consumers strongly prefer sour cream-based dips to oil-based shelf-stable alternatives. So refrigerated dip companies have embarked on a wave of innovation, as they seek to lure consumers away from the admittedly easier to carry and store shelf-stable products.
Hot on the heels of introducing its Roasted Tomato Red Pepper Dip, Westby Cooperative Creamery, Westby, Wis., is in development on a Jalapeno Cheddar dip. According to general manager Pete Kondrup, today’s consumers are looking for bold and different dip flavors and exhibiting a preference for sour cream-based products.
But good old French onion still accounts for the lion’s share of all dip sales, according to Snedeker, who equates its dominance of the dip category to vanilla’s dominance of the ice cream category.
Des Moines-based Anderson-Erickson Dairy Co. took the old standby to new heights last year with the introduction of Southwestern French Onion Dip. Relying on chipotle peppers to give it a little extra kick, the product proved extremely successful and did not appear to cannibalize sales of the company’s regular French Onion Dip, according to Betsy Hoye, director of marketing.
Recognizing the immense popularity of onion-flavored dips, Heluva Good recently rolled out Shallot and Peppercorn as the latest in the company’s line of feature flavors. “It provides that onion flavor that consumers have grown to love and the fresh ground peppercorn gives it an added kick,” Snedeker says. “By the time you get to the fifth or sixth chip, the pepper is unbelievable — not to the point that it’s bad, but just like, ‘Oh, wow! This stuff is great!’”
Over the past seven years, Heluva Good has rolled out 13 different feature flavors, four of which have been onion-based. Past feature flavors have included Buffalo Wing Blue Cheese, Green Chili Pepper, Garlic Parmesan and Five Onion. Every four months, a new feature flavor rotates in as the old one rotates out. Several flavors that have proven particularly popular, such as Creamy Salsa, Bodacious Onion and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, have become part of Heluva Good’s regular line-up.
Clearly benefiting from its primo positioning in the produce department, refrigerated dip category leader T. Marzetti racked up impressive gains in both dollar and unit sales, rising 9.8 percent and 9.0 percent, respectively, according to IRI. Seeking to boost its product portfolio, Marzetti rolled out two new veggie dips last year — Bacon Tomato and Buffalo Ranch — in addition to a new Light French Vanilla yogurt-based fruit dip, containing 35 percent fewer calories than regular cream cheese-based fruit dips.
Le Mars, Iowa-based Wells’ Dairy has also embraced the concept of yogurt-based dips but with savory flavors, rolling out IncreDiples, a line of lowfat snack dips, marketed as a vegetable/cracker/wing dip, salad dressing, sandwich spread or recipe ingredient. Boasting 50 percent fewer calories than sour cream-based dips, IncreDiples come in three varieties — Fajita Lime, Spicy Buffalo and Taco Fiesta.  
Julie Cook Ramirez is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.